Afterparty: neuro-technothriller


Afterparty is a new, excellent science fiction novel by Daryl Gregory, about drugs, God, sanity, morals, and organized crime. Its protagonist, Lyda Rose is a disgraced neuroscientist who once helped develop a drug that rewired its users' brains so that they continuously hallucinated the presence of living, embodied Godhead. Now Lyda is in a mental institution, where she is attempting to win over the therapists who oversee her -- as well as the angelic doctor that manifests only in her mind.

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Hobby Lobby, IUDs, and the facts

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether a corporation can have religious beliefs. Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the science of birth control, and how it might inform the debate.

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White, right-wing terrorist busted...and hardly a peep


Last week, the FBI arrested Robert James Talbot Jr., 38, of Katy, Texas. Talbot was the self-styled head of the American Insurgent Movement, which openly plotted to massacre Moslems at mosques and kill them with automatic weapons, sought to rob armored cars, and recruited followers to sow more mayhem. Talbot is a violent Christian fundamentalist who advertised his intention to murder people wholesale.

Kudos to the FBI for arresting this fellow, but as Death and Taxes point out, where the hell was the national panic that attends every arrest of a jihadi terrorist, no matter how cracked and improbable his plan happened to be? Nowhere to be seen.

Now, if this was a recognition by the press that lone kooks are not an existential threat to the world -- even if they are capable of committing horrible, isolated crimes -- I'd be standing up and cheering. But if Talbot had been a brown-skinned conservative Muslim who'd been arrested after planning to attack Christian churches in America with bombs and machine-guns, I suspect there would have been screaming front-page headlines and round-the-clock intensive CNN coverage for days, not to mention grim, determined reporting on Fox News.

House Science Committee: a parliament of Creationists, Climate Deniers (and dunces)


Writing in Scientific American, Ashutosh Jogalekar bemoans the famously terrible state of the House Committee on Science, a farcical body stuffed with climate deniers and young Earth creationists. At a recent hearing, committee member Randy Weber (R–TX) implied that science couldn't really make claims about things that happened tens of thousands or millions of years ago, because it couldn't directly observe them. It's a terrifying position for a legislator who sits in a position of power over national science policy to hold.

Jogalekar claims the committee is turning into a national embarrassment, but as Chris Baker points out, any notion of the committee changing over time is an Evolutionist lie from Satan, because the committee are exactly as God created them at the beginning of time, 6,321 years ago.

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Man swept to sea in beach baptism

The search for a 43-year old man, swept out to sea during a baptism on a south California beach, was called off this weekend: "A wave pulled three people into the ocean about 10 a.m. off Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve and only two managed to return to shore on their own." [AP]

Expiration Day: YA coming of age novel about robots and the end of the human race


Expiration Day is William Campbell Powell's debut YA novel, and it's an exciting start. The novel is set in a world in which human fertility has collapsed, taking the birth-rate virtually to zero, sparking riots and even a limited nuclear war as the human race realizes that it may be in its last days. Order is restored, but at the price of basic civil liberties. There's a little bit of Orwell (a heavily surveilled and censored Internet); but mostly, it's all about the Huxley. The major locus of control is a line of robotic children -- all but indistinguishable from flesh-and-bloods, even to themselves -- who are sold to desperate couples as surrogates for the children they can't have, calming the existential panic and creating a surface veneer of normalcy.

Expiration Day takes the form of a private diary of Tania, an 11 year old vicar's daughter in a small village outside of London. Tania's father's parishioners have found religion, searching for meaning in their dying world. He is counsellor and father-figure to them, though the family is still relatively poor. Tania is a young girl growing up in the midst of a new, catastrophic normal, the only normal she's ever known, and she's happy enough in it. But them she discovers that she, too, is a robot, and has to come to grips with the fact that her "parents" have been lying to her all her life. What's more, the fact that she's a robot means that she won't live past 18: all robots are property of a private corporation, and are merely leased to their "parents," and are recalled around their 18th birthday, turned into scrap.

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Oh No Ross and Carrie: podcasting investigative journalists join cults, try woo, and get prodded -- for science!

I've just finished listening to the entire, three-year run of Oh No Ross and Carrie, a podcast hosted by two former Evangelical Christians turned skeptics, who join cults and fringe religions, visit psychics and healers of varying degrees of woo-ness, and partake of quack remedies and other newage rituals. After dozens of hours of listening, enjoying, laughing and learning, I'm totally converted to their faith.

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Trailer for a fan-supported film based on Jack Chick's "Dark Dungeons" tract

Dark Dungeons is a notorious 1984 Jack Chick tract that warns the readers about the danger of being embroiled in soul-destroying Satanic cults through playing Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs. A group of fan-supported media creators obtained a free film license from Chick to make a film based on the comic, and they've released a trailer that hints at a very funny future for the project.

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Child's illustrated garden of Satanic ritual abuse


In 1990, in the middle of the moral panic over Satanic ritual abuse (an almost entirely imaginary phenomenon), Doris Sanford published "Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy," which was "based on months of intensive research into the nature and practice of satanic ritual abuse." Sanford claimed that "Any child who has been ritually abused will recognize the validity of this story."

The story is a lurid, freakish illustrated tale ripped from tabloids and sensationalist memoirs, which was supposed to help parents, teachers and social workers help kids who'd been victims of this nonexistent epidemic.

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Devotees froze dead guru

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After Indian guru Ashutosh Maharaj of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (Divine Light Awakening Mission) died in January of a suspected heart attack, his followers let his body sit a week before finally putting him in a freezer. Spiritual cryonics!

"He is not dead," spokesman Swami Vishalanand told the BBC. "Medical science does not understand things like yogic science. We will wait and watch. We are confident that he will come back."

The horrible toll of menstrual taboos in Nepal and Bangladesh

At Mosaic — a new online publication funded by the Wellcome Trust that features long reads on science and medicine — Rose George has followed the story of Radha, a 16-year-old Nepali girl forced by custom into unsafe and unsanitary conditions every time she has her period.

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Joey L.'s portraits of Holy Men

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Brooklyn-based photographer Joey L. created breathtaking portraits of ascetics in northern India, Nepal, and other parts of the region. The series is titled Holy Men. Above, Lal Baba, age 85. Joey L is best known for creating the Twilight movie posters and other commercial projects. Holy Men is part of his personal body of work that also includes the stunning Cradle of Mankind photos of tribal people in Ethiopia's Omo Valley. Below, filmmaker Cale Glendening's documentary about the Holy Men project. (via Daily Grail)

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Bad-ass Catholic weapons

Robot Mountain Benito Cereno has compiled a partial list of the bad-ass weapons of Catholocism, which include Durendal, "which had in its hilt one of St Peter’s teeth, St Basil’s blood, a hair of St Denis, and a scrap of cloth that belonged to the Virgin Mary."

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Fatwa against one-way trip to Mars

Muslims aren't permitted to take a one-way trip to Mars, at least according to a Khaleej Times report about a fatwa they say was issued by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the United Arab Emirates. “Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam... there is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.” From the Khaleej Times:
Whoever opts for this “hazardous trip”, the committee said, is likely to perish for no “righteous reason”, and thus will be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”.

The committee, presided by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.”

One-way trip to Mars prohibited in Islam

Archbishop of Newark builds himself a palace while the church shuts down schools for lack of funding

The Catholic Archdiocese of Newark is shutting down its schools due to lack of funding, but it still has a fortune it can use to build a small palace for its archbishop John J Myers, who is soon to retire after a career whose highlights include dismissing victims of sexual abuse and shielding abusing priests. Also, he insists on being addressed as "Your Grace." He's a made-in-America version of Germany's disgraced "Luxury Bishop." Cory 34